Saturday was a sunny, windless, breathless day at the Cape. The kind of day when you throw on a scarf and light sweater and head off to walk barefooted on Grotto Beach; or take a languid kayak paddle on the invitingly flat, Kleinrivier lagoon; or perhaps throw on the hiking boots and head into the mountains to smell the Fynbos – I hear the King Proteas are in full bloom.
It was not that kind of get-up-and-go kind of day for me. In fact, it was a more stay-indoors-do-nothing, kind of day, so, I flicked on the TV to see what the Tokyo Olympics menu had on offer. Not exactly a mouth-watering selection I thought: heavyweight boxing, men’s water polo, women’s soccer, bolder climbing or high jump. Nothing I would normally choose to watch. I was hoping for gymnastics or synchronised swimming, BMX or horse jumping – something artistic and uplifting…uplifting? “How about high jump?” I asked myself, a sport I had never really watched or been interested in. So, at 2pm I settled into the couch with a blanket over my legs and my faithful nebuliser by my side as well as a boxload of supplements, an oxygen meter and thermometer – all on doctor’s orders – and settled in for an afternoon of watching 12 spaghetti-like, tight-tummied, hawked-eyed women, eye a beam that had been set at 1.09 meters above ground.
I readied myself for an afternoon of eagle-eyed boredom. The kind of Saturday afternoon you spend when you’ve tested positive for Covid and the uncertainness of the world seems even more so. This was my first moment to stop and reflect on the impeding severity of the prognosis. Since getting the test results, I hadn’t had time to even wonder how this little terrorist had got into my airwaves, when I have been so careful, so isolated in this rural place, with brief visits only for essential shopping forays. My husband and I have been in a catch-up frame of mind, juggling my needs with the needs to be in touch with close friends and family. He has been fully occupied with dosing me up with hot broths and herbal tinctures, measuring dosages and taking readings.
The line-up for the high jump event was just beginning, and as the minutes and the height centimetres crept upwards, I became increasingly absorbed at what it takes, for body mind and spirit, to raise the human body over a beam, defying the laws of gravity. That bar was by increments to eventually reach 2.04 meters. With each new challenge, my breathing became more difficult and subsequently, easier.
As the bar was raised, some of the lithe ladies were forced out of the competition, a cruel but crucial part of the process of competition. I was not sure what the formula for success was, they were all equally talented athletes. The commentary seemed to focus on their level of mental ability, to stay above fear. This is what felt so inspiring to me. That after all the training to the body, it still comes down to how the whole system works together. With each high jump attempt I found myself meeting my own fear. I began to feel a softness for myself, for my own vulnerability. I saw that this is not the time to be tough, it’s a time to be strong and connected and to love myself through this challenge.
I was fascinated at how the camera lens could hone into their eyes before each athlete took to a run before the jump. The zoom was such high resolution I could watch their pupils shift and change as they honed in with their entire body, mind and spirit on that bar in the distance. Pure focus; looking fear straight on; letting every cell and muscle and fibre of their being focus on one thing: To meet this glorious challenge with all my might.
The Australian, Silver Medal Winner, Nicola McDermott took me on a particular journey through the afternoon. She had her goal supported by a practise. She repeated this before and after every jump. Before the jump, she would begin with her back to her team on the rafters (in amongst the thousands of empty seats), raise her arms and clap her hands above her head. They joined her and clapped when she did. “1-2-3-4” she shouted together with them. Then she would lower her arms, set her eyes on that beam and shout “Let’s go!” Then off she ran, like a gazelle through the grass, elegant and lithe and long legged, using life to defy gravity and lift her, like a feather, over the bar. Sometimes the edge of her foot took the bar down, other times she floated over it, almost effortlessly. The athletes are each given 3 tries if they miss. She succeeded at each level to move to the next.
It was her after-jump practise that wrapped me up and made me feel warm and comforted and validated. No matter success or failure, she returned to her base, sat down, opened a thick notebook and began to intensely write. Not only with her pen, but with her whole body. She seemed to know how to use the pen to help her understand her process. I watched her pure concentration that was often followed by a Mona Lisa short smile. At one point, an invasive, nosy cameraman dared to try to zoom into her deeply personal process and I screamed at that lens. “Don’t you dare invade her space!” Fortunately, some official agreed and a hand covered the lens and it did not happen again. After every one of her jumps, I joined her and took to my journal. She led me to my challenge and more importantly than any outcome, to my process of deepening awareness of what a journey is, and how the bar is always rising. How to track what is happening using this tool of self-honesty.
Because in truth, the bar is rising. Time is tight for us all, and this Covid challenge is but one on the cornucopia of challenges facing us as humans. A toned athlete, with discipline and dedication, shows me how I in my small corner of a living room at the Tip of Africa can do it:
Find your team. Ask for help – draw on their support. Meet the challenge with a glint in your eye and let your spirit lift you over that bar. Sometimes it’s light, other times its heavy and the bar crashes down around you. Then, take up a pen or whatever artistic tool works for you, and let your heart and soul guide you through the process. This is the rod and the staff that leads through the valley of the shadow of death. When I write my way through a process, it always begins to take a new perspective and make sense. Thank you, Nicola McDermott, for reinforcing this for me. For showing that dealing with Covid right now, is an Olympic event and that each challenge is a lifting of the bar. You were perhaps, focused on the Gold medal, for me the focus is somewhat different. For me, in this place, at this time, it seems to be about my visible and invisible team of support and how I can learn to draw on it in new and creative ways.
So, I raise my arms to my ancestors behind me, inviting them to clap with me, join me on this particular journey whose outcome is yet unknown. I draw on the wise council of teachers I have met along the way. Those who have taught breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation where everything comes into perspective.
And I draw on the maestro, Leonardo da Vinci, since I have scheduled to teach a session about him and what he has to say in his brilliant writings:
“Everything is perspective; be guided by curiosita.” Don’t just accept things at face value. And if in doubt or in fear: “Tie your course to a star.”